Alchemical Yellowing And Psychotherapy
Can we not draw a lesson from history? If the practice of Jungian psychology continues the alchemical tradition, then we too - unless we are fully yellow - simply repeat its fate, falling prey to either physical scientism, spiritual esotericism, or the business of professionalism as princes of this world - or all three mixed. - Hillman (2010) p224
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Said the caterpillar to the butterfly -

"You'll never catch me up in one of those things".


"Can we not draw a lesson from history? If the practice of Jungian psychology continues the alchemical tradition, then we too - unless we are fully yellow - simply repeat its fate, falling prey to either physical scientism, spiritual esotericism, or the business of professionalism as princes of this world - or all three mixed." Hillman (2010) p224

The Four Stages of Alchemy

We are not yellow because the Citrinitas, or Yellowing, stage of alchemical transformation has been omitted from our psychology. Jungian psychology, and by extension many of our depth and transpersonal psychologies, are founded upon, if not strongly influenced by, Jung's researches into alchemy. Any psychotherapeutic school that includes the use of transference and counter-transference within it's theories, needs to pay attention to this omission. Furthermore, given how widely Jung's theory of Individuation is accepted, the omission of yellowing has a significant impact on all of Western psychology, and profound implications for the understanding of psychological transformation.

Jung, himself actually pointed out this omission.

"Four stages [of the alchemical] opus are distinguished, characterised by the original colours mentioned in Heraclitus: melanosis (blackening), leukosis (whitening), xanthosis (yellowing), and iosis (reddening)... Later about the fifteenth or 16th Century, the colours were reduced to three, and the xanthosis, otherwise called the citrinitas, gradually fell into disuse or was seldom mentioned... There were only three colours: black, white, and red.
The first main goal of the process... highly prized by many alchemists... is the silver or moon condition, which still has to be raised to the sun condition. The albedo [whitening], is so to speak, the daybreak, but not till the rubedo [reddening] is it sunrise. The transition to the rubedo is formed by the citrinitas [yellowing], though this, as we said, was omitted later.” [Jung (1953) CW12 para 333-4.


Alchemical Stage






Inky Man

White Rose (?)

Eagle flying to Sun

Golden Lion






Jung had previously remarked, in 1952, "But in this state of 'whiteness' one does not live in the true sense of the word, it is a sort of abstract, ideal state. In order to make it come alive it must have 'blood', it must have what the alchemists call the rubedo, the 'redness' of life." [McGuire and Hull (1980) Jung Speaking p222] Staggeringly, despite these comments, Jung did nothing to re-introduce or rectify the omission of the citrinitas or yellowing in his writings, although the Red Book and accounts of analyses with him show he embodied it.

Hillman berates modern day analysts for perpetuating this omission, believing they prefer to rest in their silvery peace, the first stage achieved, resistant to the....... "substantiation [the yellowing] for it feels like a regression to the vulgar drivenness of earlier moments in the work - materia prima and nigredo - which the arduous hours of analytic reflection have finally sophisticated and pacified.” [Hillman (2010) p212]. Maybe the same was true of sixteenth century alchemists, maybe they were lazy and scared, preferring to rest in silvery peace.

In effect, without the yellow third stage, all attempts to reach the final fourth red stage, result in a false or hollow outcome, which is nothing more than a return to the second, whitening stage. The move from white to red, without going through the yellowing, Hillman describes as, mud bricks without straw.

The Rosarium Philosophorum is a series of twenty woodcut images that illustrate the whole alchemical process.


Jung only used the first ten woodcuts in his Psychology of the Transference (1946). He seemed unaware of the full set or mistook the second ten as variations of the first ten. In his analysis he effectively crammed the rubedo into woodcut 10 and omitted the citrinitas (yellowing) completely.

The end of the whitening and yellowing phases both show a re-born Hermaphrodite figure but in different states



Differences include the Yellowed Hermaphrodite being clothed, with bat, or dragon like wings compared to the feathered wings of the Whitened Hermaphrodite. To the left, in both pictures, the plant in full fruit, depicts the completion of the Whitening and Yellowing processes respectively. The animals in the Yellowed Hermaphrodite picture definitely point to forthcoming processes, as also may the Raven in the Whitened Hermaphrodite, albeit a different process. Most notable though, is how the Whitened Hermaphrodite is floating above the ground on the moon, whereas the Yellowed Hermaphrodite stands firmly upon the ground (not the Sun). The Whitened Hermaphrodite floats and is insubstantial, whereas, the combination of the Lunar and Solar processes results in the Yellowed Hermaphrodite being Earthed, or grounded, in touch with it's senses, embodied and part of the material world; not separate. (For a deeper analysis of these pictures see - The Twenty Woodcuts of the Rosarium Philosophorum and their implications for Psychotherapy. Tomkins (2012))

The perpetuation of this omission from our psychology means we live in an abstracted, idealistic world, that lacks - blood, body and passion. At best, we live as individuals stuck in endless psychologised peace, ignorant of the fuller psychological life we are missing. Our world, or at least the Western world, displays all the hallmarks of the missing yellowing, leaving
us endlessly stuck in the white phase. The whitening phase is ruled by the moon and as such is reflective, in that it does not have its own light. The maturation of the whitening happens via reflection and is often described as mirroring. The reflective processes, of thinking and feeling, dominate the direct experiences of intuition, sensation and imagination. Knowledge is King, and Mystery is banished by the whitening ego's searchlight. Perfection is idealised, and imperfection seen as weakness. Immediate gratification is expected. Nothing is allowed to mature. Lacking true wisdom, we are children in adult's bodies. Our leaders lack the vision to see the real problems, and the guts to really change things. We give up our personal authority and lay it on the altar of democracy, and impose our beliefs on other cultures, when our own is riddled with crimes against the soul. We measure success in terms of economic growth, rather than human well being. Material greed, trumps environmental necessity. Work has become so specialised, mechanised, digitalised, that it leaves us with a sense of alienation, and no meaningful or purposeful place in the world. All moves to a more embodied life are subverted by the whitened ego. Feminism has become a fight for equal rights for women, rather than a transforming force to change this patriarchal society, that oppresses both women, and men. There are many more examples, and there are probably many other 'isms out there, that can account for our soulless society, but few, if any, unlike alchemy, show us a way through.


Hillman, eloquently and succinctly describes the first three (of the four) stages of alchemy...

β€œIn sum : during nigredo there is pain and ignorance; we suffer without the help of knowledge. During albedo the pain lifts, having been blessed by reflection and understanding. The yellow brings the pain of knowledge itself. The soul suffers its own understanding.” Hillman (2010) p215

The alchemical stages, can to some extent be seen, as the ego's transformation, through a series of encounters and unifications, with the four archetypes; shadow (blackening), animus (whitening), anima (yellowing) and Self (reddening). This perspective is at variance with traditional Jungian theory, in that the individual is seen to have both an animus and an anima. rather than one or the other, depending on their ascribed gender. The animus is the individual, or personal, representation of spirit; and anima is the individual, or personal representation of matter. Animus demands separation and distance, whereas anima demands relationship and proximity, or even, immersion. If either pole of these opposing forces is denied or collapses, we are left with a monotheistic consciousness, i.e. with ego consciousness. When identified with animus, we relate "to" or "with" others, and there is a definite sense of "I". Alternatively, when identified with anima, we are "in" anima, there is no distinct "I", more of an unconscious, or undifferentiated, "we".

During the blackening or nigredo, blissful innocence and ignorance are lost. The fall comes as a shock to the individual, as they gradually become aware of their ego, or shadow. The ego becomes aware that it is only a part and not all, and that other (darker) forces are at work; forces that it once banished in order to establish itself. In the albedo, or whitening, the animus employs the reflective psychological functions of thinking and feeling to raise, distance and separate the ego, from what it cannot bear. The animus, to further it's own ends and achieve greater independence, educates the ego in how to master and dominate those darker forces. This move, vertically upwards, brings perspective and detachment. This is a necessary psychological development, allowing the individual to separate from Mother/Matter, and function as a separate entity in the world. The psychological problems of this stage are generally neurotic, in that they are to do with how we deal with this transition.

In order to move from the white to the yellow, the whitened ego, with it's drive for separation and objectification, needs to lose its habitual way of experiencing the world. The ego needs to recognise that it no longer has a problem, it is the problem. From within, the yellowing anima, undermines the whitened ego's position, confronting it with it's own existential limitations, and an acceptance of it's dependence and attachments. The yellowing is less visible, less apparent, than the whitening. We are in it, it is in us, rather than us looking at it from a distance. There is no distance, just imminence, presence, a materiality, a gravitas and depth. The yellowing brings an emphasis on the body, and the psychological function of sensation is brought to the fore. This sensitivity also heightens the psychological function of the intuition. Sensation and intuition, are direct unmediated experience, there is no judgement or valuation of what is experienced, it just is. The yellowing, by reducing the whitened ego's grip on experience, allows more room for the true imagination to emerge. This shift in emphasis, away from the reflective functions of thinking and feeling, brings a profound confrontation with, and ultimately an acceptance of, existential reality; and consequently the psychological problems of yellowing, are of an existential nature.

In the rubedo, or reddening, the resultant and ongoing syzygy of animus and anima, operating through the whitened and then yellowed ego, brings a unity to the psyche, which manifests in the world, as the individual's, ever evolving, unique personality or character.

In terms of the Yin Yang Symbol